An Atlanta drug dealer desperate to leave the game behind goes after one last score to set him up for life in “Superfly,” a gloriously misguided reboot of the 1972 blaxploitation classic, starring Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell and Michael Kenneth Williams.
Directed with over-the-top flair by prolific music video helmer Director X from an uneven script that exploits every stereotype and gangster movie trope in the book, this updated take on the 70s classic is a wonderful mess that is entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Brimming with tough guy posturing, gratuitous violence and overblown acting, Director X’s first foray into studio filmmaking is the epitome of all style and no substance, with the film essentially playing like a two hour rap video punctuated by a cheesy storyline that gets no traction. Unlike the original, whose gritty aesthetic and streetwise storyline were a perfect match for its time, the newest version’s attempt to achieve a similar coolness comes across as laughable at nearly every turn.
Set in an Atlanta consisting mostly of trap houses, strip clubs, and furniture stores serving as fronts for drug operations, “Superfly” revolves around Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson), one of the city’s most feared and respected cocaine dealers. Boasting not one but two arm candy girlfriends (Lex Scott Davis and Andrea Londo) and a wildly successful drug operation that he runs with his childhood friend Eddie (Jason Mitchell), despite his lavish lifestyle, Priest is ready to leave the game behind while he can still make it out alive. A longstanding beef that has recently turned violent with a group of rival dealers called The Snow Patrol has added a degree of urgency to Priest’s escape plans.
In order for Priest to get out of the game, he needs to ramp up his coke business in a big way, but this doesn’t sit well with his plug and mentor, Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams), who knows that moving so much product will draw unwanted attention. Putting his desire to escape the game above his allegiance to Scatter, Priest decides to go around his old pal’s back and link up with his cartel kingpin connection, Adelberto (Esai Morales), which leads to predictably bloody results. Add to the mix a couple corrupt cops (Jennifer Morrison and Brian Durkin) and a scandal-prone mayor (Big Boi) running for reelection, and you have all the ingredients for a corny gangster pic.
With his stylized interpretation of the celebrated original, Director X shows an undeniable affinity for tantalizing audiences with eye-pleasing shots usually centered on shootouts, luxury car chases and scantily clad women receiving money showers at strip clubs and house parties. Of course, it’s hard to fault a director for being too style-oriented when the film in question is a remake of a movie very much rooted in the swagger and style of its time, but there’s an undeniable emptiness about the proceedings that the original managed to avoid. As for screenwriter Alex Tse’s scattershot script, there’s an awful lot going on, far more than needs to be going on, and none of it coheres in any kind of satisfying fashion. A couple half-hearted attempts at addressing timely racial issues also miss the mark. Enough said.
Much like the rest of the film, the acting of “Superfly” leaves much to be desired. Most of the characters are one-note stereotypes – the corrupt cop, the ruthless cartel member, etc. – and in many cases interchangeable with one another, particularly the members of the ridiculously named Snow Patrol. And while some cast members put in serviceable work along the way, Jason Mitchell as Priest’s business partner and Michael Kenneth Williams as his drug dealing mentor among them, Trevor Jackson’s swaggy starring debut as the notorious kingpin never pierces beyond surface level.
Better to seek out the original than this watered down imitation.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 116 minutes
Rated R for violence and language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, and drug content.